Higher Education in Germany

There are currently 422 universities in Germany with a combined student population of approximately 2.9 million. Of these, 120 are universities or similar institutions, 245 are universities of applied sciences — in German: “Hochschulen für Angewandte Wissenschaften” (HAW) / “Fachhochschulen” (FH)—, 57 are universities of the arts.

Higher Education Institutions are either state or state-recognized institutions. In their operations, including the organization of studies and the designation and award of degrees, they are both subject to higher education legislation.

Universities including various specialized institutions, offer the whole range of academic disciplines. In the German tradition, universities focus in particular on basic research so that advanced stages of study have mainly theoretical orientation and research-oriented components.
Universities have the right to confer doctoral degrees and cater for the education and training of the next generation of academics.

Universities of applied sciences concentrate their study programmes in engineering and other technical disciplines, business-related studies, social work, and design areas. The common mission of applied research and development implies a distinct application-oriented focus and professional character of studies, which include integrated and supervised work assignments in industry, enterprises or other relevant institutions.
Almost a third of students attend universities of applied sciences.

The third major group comprises the universities of the arts offering studies for artistic careers in fine arts, performing arts and music respectively; in such fields as directing, production, writing in theatre, film, and other media; and in a variety of design areas, architecture, media and communication.

A central characteristic is the uniting of arts teaching, artistic practice and research. There is a clear difference between teaching of arts subjects, and teaching at universities and universities of applied sciences. Their core objective is to allow students to develop as artistic individuals. Two per cent of all students attend a college of arts or music.
Almost all colleges of art and music have the right to confer doctoral degrees and the post-doctoral “Habilitation” qualification for the title of “professor”. 

In total, there are approximately 21,600 different degree programmes on offer at higher education institutions throughout Germany. There are essentially two university-level academic qualifications, a Bachelor’s degree and a Master’s degree. In addition, there are some subject areas in which courses lead to state-certified exams, for example, medicine, law and the training of teachers. Finally, there are still some remaining degree programmes that lead to a “Diplom” qualification.

Higher education institutions are either government-funded or government-accredited.
In spite of the increasing presence of private HEIs, a large number of which have been established in the last few years, public HEIs remain clearly in the majority. There are 273 public, state-funded institutions of higher education, compared with 149 non-state higher education institutions. State-recognised, private universities (111) are predominantly small institutions offering only a very limited range of subjects, e.g. Business Administration, Media Studies, Design. Around 90 per cent of all students in Germany are matriculated at public higher education institutions. 

Due to the federal system in Germany, responsibility for education, including higher education, lies entirely with the individual federal states. The states are responsible for the basic funding and organisation of HEIs. Each state has its own laws governing higher education. Therefore, the actual structure and organisation of the various systems of higher education may differ from state to state. The management structures of HEIs vary, as do the regulations governing the accreditation of new degree programmes. Currently, no fees are charged in the federal states.

However, in order to ensure the same conditions of study and to guarantee mobility within Germany certain basic principles have been agreed on by the federal state ministers for science within the framework of the Standing Conference of the Ministers of Education and Cultural Affairs. State governments must take these into account when formulating their laws and regulations.

HEIs have a certain degree of autonomy as regards organisation and in deciding on any academic issues. However, in the last two decades this autonomy has been increasingly broadened to include issues related to human resources and budget control.
Germany has recently experienced an increasing financial commitment to the field of higher education at a federal level both in terms of scope and importance.
However, this development is restricted by narrow constitutional limitations. The German government can only legislate on issues related to access to higher education and academic qualifications.